Archive for September, 2008

Inaction by Congress Puts the U.S. in Grave Economic Peril

September 30, 2008

  Only two members of the Georgia members of Congress voted for the bailout for investment banks. They were Rep. Sanford Bishop of Albany and Representative Jim Marshall of Macon, both moderate Democrats.

  Both of Georgia‘s Republican senators, Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, were not happy about the vote.

  According to Atlanta Business Chronicle, Chambliss said, “The House vote today puts everything in a state of uncertainty and complicates the issue of whether or not the Senate will vote on a financial rescue plan,”

  And Isakson said, “Our country is struggling. Doing nothing is unacceptable. I hope cooler heads will come to the table so we can move forward with a proposal that is in the best interests of the American people.”

  Though it is a hard pill to swallow, using $700 billion tax dollars to buy bad mortgages to bail out Wall Street investment banks, not to do something will be disastrous. Hardly anyone is using the word “crash” because it brings back the specter of the 1929 crash, but when the market plunges more than 700 points, the largest drop in history, the term does come to mind.

  Congress is to reconvene Thursday. Let’s hope the plan presented then will have enough protection in it for the American taxpayer, including homeowners with mortgages that it can get enough support to pass.  To let election year political considerations take priority over saving this country from financial disaster is about as low as a member of Congress can get.

 

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Barnes Effort to Prevent this Financial Crisis was Overturned by Sonny Perdue

September 29, 2008

  Former Governor Roy Barnes saw this financial debacle coming and had the Georgia legislature pass a law to prevent it happening in Georgia. It held lenders accountable for their lending policies. Bill Shipp reports that K Street lobbyists in Washington tried to get Barnes not to do it, but they failed. In order to stop what Barnes was doing because it could have spread to other states, Wall Street bankers and K Street lobbyists poured money into the Sonny Perdue campaign. Once Perdue won the election, he saw that the Barnes’ law was dismantled.

  You can get the details by reading Shipp’s column. Just click on this link.

Why No Bailout for Bill Heard Chevrolet?

September 28, 2008

  The government’s bailout of the banking industry raises some interesting questions. The biggest one is where does it all end? If we grant 700-billion-dollars to bailout the Wall Street investment banks, and 25-billion-dollars to save American car makers, why shouldn’t we bailout Bill Heard Chevrolet?

  After all, all Mr. Big Volume was doing is the same thing that the mega-banks were doing. As an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story says, “Like the Wall Street investment bankers who grabbed up securities backed by risky subprime home mortgages, Heard apparently staked too much on people who couldn’t pay what they owed.”

  Another interesting question is where does this bailout business end?  And what is the lesson it sends?  Is it that risk is taken out of doing business because the taxpayer will make up the difference when the business fails?

  Don’t be ridiculous, you might say, the government can’t do that for everybody. In that case, is it fair to do it for some and not others, and who decides which ones are insured against failure by the taxpayer?  And that tax payer, by the way, will be our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and their children, because the government will raise the money not by raising taxes now, but by borrowing it from China and other countries willing to take the risk.  The only alternative to that, if taxes are not raised, is for the government to print money. That causes runaway inflation which is another disaster.  

  What a mess.

  Just look at what the successful deregulators have done. They have put us right back where we were in 1929 when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression followed.  As the 60’s anti-war protest song went, “When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?”

 

 

Bill Heard Chevrolet Tragedy Hits Home

September 27, 2008

  I was sorry to read in the Ledger-Enquirer that the Carl Gregory deal collapsed over the price of leasing of the Bill Heard Chevrolet lot on Manchester Expressway, which is owned by a third party.  He could have had  Carl Gregory Chevrolet up and running and put more than two hundred people back to work quickly, and was apparently anxious to do just that. 

  The tragedy of this event no doubt hits home for a lot of us with freinds and relatives who had worked at Bill Heard Chevrolet. A good friend of mine – he asked me not to use his name – who is 72 years old, learned last Friday that, after working for Bill Heard for more than 30 years, he didn’t have a job any more. He was given no severance pay.  He said that he had been offered two weeks severance if he signed an exit contract on Friday, September 19, but hesitated after being advised to wait to see if maybe the company would also give him a car. When he went back he was told the money was not available, so he left with no severance at all. He believes that no one got severance pay, unless they got it before Tuesday, September 23rd.

  So now, at 72, he is looking for a job, because he says he can’t afford to retire.  Fortunately, his spirit is still high, with both his and his wife, also my dear friend, still having a sense of humor; and he probably will land a new job soon because he does have a lot of creative talent, and he is not the type to give up.

  According to the paper’s story, other automobile dealerships are looking into buying Bill Heard Chevrolet. Let’s hope it happens soon.

Bill Heard Chevrolet’s Failure is Another Blow for A Victum of Hurrican Ike

September 25, 2008

  A comment about my post on my personal memories about Bill Heard Chevrolet  so graphically and  poignantly illustrates the personal tragidies involved in the failure of a national firm like Bill Heard Chevrolet, that I decided to use it as a post. Not everyone who reads a post reads the comment section.

  It was sent by Thea Shannon of Houston, Texas.

 “As a 14 year employee at the Heard store in Houston TX, I read your blog with a smile. Yes, there were questionable practices, but it was our job in the accounting office to keep the dealership as above-board and legally correct  as possible. There were some fantastic people working here, people that cared about our customers and doing what was right.

” And we were given 20 minute to pack our stuff and get out. Here, 13 days after hurricane Ike, I have no power, no job, aging parents to care for, and a generator drinking $40+ in gas a day. This is not a good time, to say the least. Your blog helped take some of the bitterness off. Thank you for sharing.”

  When I get to feeling sorry for myself for some reason, I have to reflect on how insignificant my complaints are compared to what people like Thea are going through.

Memories about Bill Heard Chevrolet

September 24, 2008

  When I heard about the news about Bill Heard dealerships closing, my mind went into its historical mode.

   Naturally, I thought about and regreted the hardships this will cause the more than two-thousand Bill Heard employees.  I also thought of the advertising dollars that the radio, TV stations and newspapers will lose. Bill Heard dealerships spent a lot of money on advertising. But, at my age, I tend to put things into historical perspective.

  I read in the Ledger-Enquirer that the company started in 1919. That’s a little before my time so I don’t remember any of that, but I do remember when the dealership was called Muscogee Motors and was located along automobile dealership row on 1st Avenue in downtown Columbus. It was on a corner and right next to it was Hardaway Ford, and across the street was Cliff Averette’s Buick and Cadallac dealership. 

  It was always a big deal when the new models would come out; large crowds would show up for the unveiling. The dealerships would paper over their show windows so no one could see the new models until the unveiling event.  The dealers would even do things like having live music to accompany the event.

  It was during the depression and a lot of people did not buy new cars, but it didn’t cost anything to look. My Daddy was a Ford man so that’s what I was. The closest he came to buying a new car after I was born was when he bought a 1939 Ford in 1940.  I didn’t want him to do it because our 1936 model had a radio and the ’39 didn’t.  Turns out he did the right thing to get a later model, because once World War Two started, Detroit stopped making cars and started making trucks and tanks and even airplanes.

  One year, Muscogee Motors showed a short commercial movie on a screen set up on a wall of the dealership. That was before TV so it drew attention. However, it didn’t impress me because I didn’t think it had much of a plot. I was probably ten years old at the time. 

  I did switch to a Chevrolet later in life, buying a 1959 model in either 1960 or 1961, when I was working at WSB Radio in Atlanta. Fins were a big deal that year and that Chevrolet had a “cool” gull wing arrangement on its rear end.  We enjoyed it.

  But, I reverted to Ford when the 1990 Lincoln Towncar came out.  That was some car. We took it to a lot a places including Texas a few times. It was great on the Interstates. I downgraded to a Mercury Grand Marquis, which I now drive. It’s pretty much a Towncar, but about $10 thousand cheaper.

  A lot of comments followed the Ledger-Enquirer story, a lot saying Bill Heard got what he deserved because of his dealership’s selling tactics.  I can only go by my own experience.  I bought my only new model from Bill Heard, a 1964 Chevrolet Malibu. I don’t remember any unpleasantness about the deal, and it was a dependable car that didn’t require a lot of repairs. I drove my family to the 1965 World’s Fair in New York City in it, which was a fun trip.  It got totaled in a wreck after we moved to Columbia, South Carolina. We bought a 1966 Chevy in Columbia to replace it. It was our first air conditioned car. What was the first thing to go out on it and cost me a fortune? You guessed it, the air conditioner. But, get it fixed  I did, because once you have an air conditioned car there is no going back.

  I noticed one person said he was glad he wouldn’t have to hear annoying Bill Heard commercials on the radio any more. I can remember when I came back from WSB in Atlanta in 1961 to work as program manager for WRBL Radio and couldn’t believe those screaming, rapid-firing, loud sounding commercials. Listeners complained about them all the time. Finally, the station mananger got up the courage to ask the company to tone them down a little. The word came back that the spots were effective and the dealership was reluctant to change them, but it would tone them down a little. The station manager said he thought the new ones were not as annoying, but you couldn’t have proved it by me. However, Bill Heard spent a lot of money with the station and you just couldn’t argue with that.

  On a personal level, I have always had a friendly and respectful relationship with Bill Heard, Jr. One of the last things I did as a news anchor before retiring was a transportration series that featured an interview with him.  He was one of Columbus’ business leaders who worked hard for many years to get the city connected to the Interstate highway system.

Friends Can Really Make a Big Difference

September 24, 2008
Freinds of Libraries Annual Meeting, Columbus Public Library

Freinds of Libraries Annual Meeting, Columbus Public Library

   It’s always good to get together with Friends. Yes, the capital “f” was intentional, because I am talking about the Friends of Libraries. The non-profit Chattahoochee Valley Library System support group held its annual meeting last night at the the impressive new Columbus Library that it had a big hand in getting built.

  Last fiscal year (July 1, 2007 – June 30, 2008) Friends gave more than $50 thousand to the library system. The money was raised by donations, membership dues, and Library Store profits. The library store was the second largest contributor, raising more than $40 thousand by selling used books.

  I am one of the store’s volunteers, selling books every other Tuesday afternoon. It’s an enjoyable experience that doesn’t require me to think very much – well, once I finally learned how to operate the cash register.  It’s enjoyable because I get to meet a lot of book lovers of all types of friendly people. Maybe they are friendly because they like being in a book store, especially one that offers some almost new best sellers that can be bought for five dollars or less. A lot of the books are a dollar, and paperbacks go for half-a-dollar.  People also buy a lot of DVD’s and CD’s for fire sale prices.

  This tradition of support is a direct result of the work of Doris Halouska, who, as a president of the Columbus League of Women Voters, did a study back in 1988 and learned that Columbus was the only city of comparable size in Georgia that did not have a Friends group. She started lobbying to correct that situation, eventually making the case before the Library Board and the Muscogee County School Board. She said it was an easy sale, that Superintendent Braxton Nail signed on to the idea, but it did take a while for Freinds to become a reality, 1995, to be exact.

Doris Halouska, Friends Annual Meeting, Columbus Public Library

Doris Halouska, Friends Annual Meeting, Columbus Public Library

  Since then Freinds has been a motivating force in getting branch libraries built, switching from the old card catalogue system to computerization, and getting the beautiful new library built on Macon Road.  Our libraries are bright, warm, user-friendly places now, and they are definitely being used. Since Friends went into action the number of people using the libraries and checking out materials has increase exponentially.

  Just think of the wealth of information that libraries provide. The shelves are stacked with ideas that are available for free to anyone who seeks knowledge. But, it is more than that. It is a gathering place for lovers of literature, music and drama. You can even go see free movies at the Columbus Library.  

  A city’s public library is a barometer of a communty’s intellectual values, and its commitment to offering a decent lifestyle and opportunity for learning to all of its citizens. Columbus can be thankful for all who support it, including Friends.

  Full disclosure: I am now a member of the Friends of Libraries Board of Directors, elected last night, so I could be biased in my reporting on the subject. But, frankly I was biased toward supporting the library long before I ever joined Friends.

  By the way, I would like to encourage you to join. We have 229 members now and we can use a lot more. It’s quite reasonable, only $10 bucks a year. Come to the Library Book Store and pick up a membership form. We’d love to have you. And, if the buy something while you are there. well, that would be good, too.

Wall Street’s Financial Earthquake Shakes All of Us

September 24, 2008

  Now I am beginning to really understand why people who have experienced an earthquake say, “It’s terrifying because you have absolutely no control over the situation.” It appears the only thing you can do is crawl under a desk or table or something and hope nothing strong enough to crush it falls on it. 

  That’s the way I am feeling about what’s happening on Wall Street and in Washington. Taxpayers are about to be saddled with $700 billion plus to bail out financial institutions. There is nothing I can do about it as I watch it being railroaded speedily through Congress.

  Though this blog is mainly locally oriented, I have to talk about this mess. It is local in that it effects everyone in this area. It has me very frustrated and angry.

  You and I are having to pay for the insane greed on Wall Street and almost eight years of deregulation in Washington that brought about this disaster.

  The original Bush administration’s bill prevents any court review of anything the Treasury Department does after the $700 billion is handed over to them.  Thankfully some members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, are throwing up red flags on this one.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Dem. OH)

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Dem. OH)

  I like Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s idea.

 “Since the bailout will cost each and every American about $2,300, tomorrow I will offer legislation to create a United States Mutual Trust Fund, which will take control of $700 billion in stock assets, at market value and not higher, convert those assets to shares, and distribute $2,300 worth of shares to new individual savings accounts in the name of each and every American,” Kucinich said in a statement that was published on the Truthout site.

  It went on to say, “The Wall Street financial disaster is an opportunity to create a genuine ownership society. If Congress invests $700 billion in the market, then the American people must get something of real value for their investment.”

   And why not? If we are being asked to put up $700 billion dollars, why shouldn’t we get something for our money. It won’t happen though. The Bush administration won’t even go along with the idea of including a stipulation in the bill that would prohibit the reckless CEO’s who are largely responsible for this debacle from getting multi-million dollar golden parachutes. In other words, they’ll get millions while others suffer from their actions.

  Yes, the financial earth is shaking, and there is nothing I can do about it but look for something to get under to prevent from being  hit by falling Wall Street debris.  My only hope is that Congress will provide that shelter.

Few Showed up for a Big International Show

September 22, 2008

  In this world of racial and ethnic strife, one has to support efforts to lessen and even prevent that strife by bringing people of different races and cultures together. That’s why I support One Columbus and that’s why I went down to the Columbus Civic Center to attend the International Festival, which is sponsored by the Mayor’s Commission and Unity and Diversity.

 A lot of different cultures and countries were represented with booths and entertainment groups.

  When I walked in a Japanese contingent was performing a dance. They were giving it their all and I enjoyed it.

Japanese Dancers, Columbus Civic Center

Japanese Dancers, Columbus Civic Center

Japanese Dancers, Columbus Civic Center

Japanese Dancers, Columbus Civic Center

   Afterwards I went over to the Japanese booth and chatted with Kazue Schmitz, who is married to Kurt Schmitz, WTVM weatherman.  She was writing people’s names in Japanese for them to take home as a souvenir.  She was pleased with the idea of diverse people gathering for a festival, but she was disappointed with size of the crowd. She and Mirta Fortin, originally from Guatemala, and now a teacher of Spanish at Columbus High School, who was hosting the Guatemala booth, who agreed with her, said there was just no advance publicity.

Kazue Schmitz, Columbus Civic Center

Kazue Schmitz, Columbus Civic Center

Mita Fortin, Columbus Civic Center

Mita Fortin, Columbus Civic Center

  You can’t expect people to come if they don’t know about it. The person in charge of sending out news releases said she sent them to the newspaper, radio and TV stations, but for some reason they didn’t seem interested. She said some showed to take some pictures at the event. That’s nice, but they could have gotten better crowd shots if they had let people know about it in advance.

Korean Fan Dancers, Columbus Civic Center

Korean Fan Dancers, Columbus Civic Center

    You hate to see people put out a big effort to share their cultural backgrounds with dances and displays and have to play to a lot of empty seats.

   I wouldn’t known about it if One Columbus Executive Director Ken Crooks hadn’t told about it during a speech he made Sunday morning at the Unitarian Fellowship of Columbus. He talked about diversity and unity combining in a community. More on that in a future post. Stay tuned.

Georgia Democrats Call for Special Session of the Legislature to Deal with Financial Crisis

September 20, 2008

Rep. DuBose Porter and Sen. Robert Brown complain that Governor Perdue values an Agri-Center and Go-Fish program in his home county more than a veteran’s home in another county.  

  Finally, Georgia Democratic legislative leaders are going into action over the way Governor Sonny Perdue is going about reducing state expenditures. They think he needs legislative input in what shall be cut and are calling for a special session of the legislature to deal with the state’s financial crisis.  They believe Governor Perdue’s actions are leading to a financial disaster for the state.

  For instance, they think it is very wrong close down a home for veterans while pumping millions into a horse park expansion at the Agri-Center in Perry and a Go-Fish program, both in the Perdue’s home county.

  “It is necessary for the state to make budget changes due to the weakening general economy. However, closing the domiciliary at the War Veterans Home is shameful and rolling back tax money due to local governments will impose an unnecessary tax increase on working families,” according to Senate Democratic Leader Robert Brown (D-Macon). ”]State Sen. Robert Brown [Democrat, Macon]
  “The longer we wait the bigger the budget deficit will be and this will hurt education, economic development, health care and anywhere else that government has a role. Under this current process, the Governor has forced agency heads to make decisions such as closing the War Veterans Home, state parks and furloughing state employees with no input from the house or senate. Without a special session now, we will continue to move Georgia backwards and force an increase in local taxes,” adds House Democratic Leader Dubose Porter (D-Dublin).
Georgia State Rep. BuBose Porter (D)

Georgia State Rep. BuBose Porter (D)

  “Perhaps most galling, when our country is fighting two wars, Governor Perdue believes it is acceptable to evict 81 veterans from the Georgia War Veterans Home in Milledgeville, for a savings of $2.7 million. Meanwhile, projects such as a $7.3 million horse park expansion at the Agri-Center in Perry and $19 million for the Go-Fish program, both in the Governor’s home county, continue to move forward.
 
  “These people volunteered to serve their country and put their lives on the line for our freedom, but instead we are going to let them go homeless while we make boat ramps and horse shows a priority during a budget crisis. Those are not the values of Georgia’s citizens or Georgia Democrats.” said Senator Brown.  “This is no longer just a fiscal issue.  This is a moral issue.”
 
  Senator Brown and Representative Porter noted that waiting for January to fix the problem is no solution at all. “With every day that goes by, the budget gets further out of balance, and we get deeper and deeper into a hole,” said Representative Porter.